We all know — and applaud — when wiretaps break major corruption scandals, such as Blagojevich in Illinois, or the recent Wall Street insider trading investigation. Or the delicious ones, like Spitzer’s dalliance with a New York call girl.
But there is also something just a little scary about government wiretaps as well. That’s why I was quite interested to read a report covering wiretaps in 2010. (This report covered only wiretaps for criminal investigations. National security wiretaps are covered by different regulations, and are not reported publicly.)
Here are some interesting facts from the report:
- Last year, 3,195 wiretaps were requested.
- Of that, the courts approved 3,194.
- 96% covered cell phones and text messages.
- The average wiretap lasts 40 days, and intercepted communications involving 118 different people.
- 84% of the wiretaps involved drug investigations.
- The average cost of operating the wiretaps was $63,566.
Personally, I only found one major surprise: that 84% of the wiretaps were for drug investigations. I would not have expected it to be that high. It certainly says something about our society and our laws, but I do not to know what to make of it.
One of the best quotes about wiretapping comes from Justice Louis Brandeis, in a case known as Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438. Justice Brandeis noted the following:
“The evil incident to invasion of the privacy of the telephone is far greater than that involved in tampering with the mails. Whenever a telephone line is tapped, the privacy of the persons at both ends of the line is invaded, and all conversations between them upon any subject, and although proper, confidential, and privileged, may be overheard. Moreover, the tapping of one man’s telephone line involves the tapping of the telephone of every other person whom he may call, or who may call him. As a means of espionage, writs of assistance and general warrants are but puny instruments of tyranny and oppression when compared with wiretapping.”
Did you know that quote is from 1928? Some may say how far we’ve come with technology, still others will worry about how far we still need to go — particularly when it comes to our digital privacy.
What do you think?